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Home Media for the Holidays

Another holiday season is upon us, and hopefully you’re reading this on the cusp (or in the middle) of some well-deserved time off where you can enjoy some media and games. But the clock is always ticking, and if you take too long to decide what to go with, you might not get to enjoy anything! This week, we thought we’d talk a little about strategies to help work out just what it is you want to experience when your available time is concentrated, but limited, whether it be film, books, television, or games of both the electronic and tabletop varieties.

B: For me, the most significant starting point is always going to be tone and feeling. Even if you’re focusing on things specifically relating to the current holiday, you’ll still have a lot to choose from. Sometimes I’ll want something breezy and uplifting to inspire holiday cheer, but sometimes (most times, if we’re being honest), I’ll go for something darker and bleaker that fits the colder weather and shorter days - the first Dishonored game did that job last year, and I’ll likely take a similar approach this year as well.

Of course, the other important starting point is choosing which medium you’re going to be experiencing. An electronic game might only be a good idea if you can get enough time to focus on it, and don’t expect to be doing much traveling (unless you have a portable system, of course). If you want something you can do at regular intervals, a television series might be a good fit since it’s designed to be consumed in chunks. Just be sure not to pick something too long, or you may find yourself staring down an unintentional cliffhanger that won’t be resolved until next year’s holidays. And from novels to comics to RPGs, it’s hard to beat a good book for portability and ease of access… provided you can get in enough quiet time in to read the darn thing. Andy, what’s your starting point with all this, given the added complexities of parenthood?

A: For me, the first thing that comes to mind when considering media consumption during the holidays is tradition. This can mean both traditions that started long ago and setting new ones. There are a number of old "classic" movies and television specials my family likes to indulge in almost every year. (No, I don’t mean the Star Wars Holiday Special.) Fortunately, most of these are suitable for, if not specifically geared toward, children or watching as a complete family. This year, we’ve already seen the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street starring Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood. We’ve also watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown almost a month ago). There's no doubt that we'll watch several more movies and specials over the coming weeks, even if we’ve seen them a dozen or so times. It won’t be long before the likes of Frosty and Rudolph are seen on our screens, and possibly multiple times over the season. Newer things will likely be mixed in as well, and some might be good enough to start new traditions. I know my older son is probably going to watch the Lego Star Wars Holiday Special once more.

Having children does mean another thing: a lot of work. I may not care when the decorations go up, or if they even do, but the kids will. Regular chores still have to go on with all of these additional seasonal requirements. That can make it difficult to consume any media at all. One thing to consider are audio plays. Bugsy has even talked about some enjoyable Star Wars ones before. My wife and I spent much of Wednesday evening preparing for Thanksgiving dinner. No media consumption then, right? Wrong! While sitting down to watch a movie, play a game, or read a book may have been out of the question, audio plays came in to save the day! We’ve recently begun to enjoy the Sandman audio play on Audible, and it kept our hands free for prepwork. They’re portable, easy to access and let you keep on doing all the things that need to get done. You can find holiday-themed ones, sometimes for things you may already be a fan of. There's also a good chance your favorite gaming stream has a podcast version, as well. You can even catch me and Grant Howitt in the Adventure Skeletons one-shot from LORE.

The one thing that does seem to be escaping my grasp at the moment are games. My regular D&D game couldn’t find a time that worked for a majority involved. The thought of sitting down on my own when there's so much else to get done seems daunting. The only video gaming I’ve had time for is just messing around in the phone version of Grand Theft Audio: San Andreas. What do you do in these cases, Bugsy? Resort to solo-play RPGs? Subsist on phone games alone?

B: If I'm feeling a tabletop itch when actual play is an impossibility, I'll tend to pull an RPG book off the shelf, ideally a sourcebook or a corebook with large sections dedicated to building out the setting - even if it's one I've read before. I'm not looking for a rules refresher here, but a small taste of what it feels like to occupy that world whenever I get a moment of bathroom quiet time to open up to a random page. It's not as immersive as dedicated study in preparation to run something, but it does get me a little in that headspace, scratching the itch and granting me just a little more familiarity for that future game session... whenever that may actually take place.

On the electronic gaming front, I always try to have a couple things ready that I'm already familiar with, and either have no set story (like puzzle or sports games) or have a story with a short runtime, but can still play out in a lot of different ways - the classic Choose Your Own Adventure setup. Way of the Samurai 2 is an old standby for this kind of thing, and recently I've been hooked on the lesser-known Capcom fighting game Rival Schools: United by Fate. Both have numerous endings I have yet to see, and are short enough that I don't have to feel bad about abandoning my progress, should I have to stop playing. Another thing they have in common is storytelling through character design, where a lot of the characterization and tone is conveyed visually, and thus something that can be parsed entirely at my own pace. Which brings me to one of my absolute favorite media types to consume when time is short: comics.

I've previously talked about the magic that happens in comics between the panels, but this time I'd like to highlight what goes on within them. The aforementioned character design is only one of the many ways comics (or "sequential art," if you prefer) can express plot, personality, tone, even backstory, all in the amount of time you choose (or are afforded) to spend reading it. They're also perfect for when you expect to be frequently interrupted, as its easier than with any other form of narrative media to find your place again after you were pulled away, as well as allowing fast review if you feel like you missed a detail or progression. During 2021, I've been working my way through the Love and Rockets series, and hope to direct some of my furtive reading time that way as the year winds to a close. (Although I only have the first three books in the current Fantagraphics reprint, if anyone was wondering what to get this particular gameblogger as a holiday gift...)

When it comes to media selection, ultimately, it all comes down to your priorities and knowing what you want out of the experience, whether that's something new and exciting, or something comfortable and familiar. And if you're stuck with option paralysis, start with something you know, then gauge how you feel about it - it's always okay to change your mind after you've started something! It's better to have a few false starts before you find that perfect fit than it is to look back on the time you could have spent enjoying something.

No matter what holidays you may be celebrating, avoiding, or actively combating, we hope you're able to pair them with whatever media suits you best. And if you can't, well... there's always next year!

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